From its opening seconds, Flesh And Bone belies its ostensible genre. This is not a show about dance. Those Hitchcockian strings filled with paranoia, the uneasy close-ups of childhood objects, the ominous pounding at the door. Dance is beautiful and graceful. As Paul Grayson, the artistic director of the American Ballet Company, says in his speech to his board of directors, dance is effort made effortless. But we’re not watching a dance show. We’re watching horror.
Flesh And Bone is an eight episode miniseries created by Moira Walley-Beckett, the writer of Breaking Bad’s “Ozymandias” among other classic episodes. For her first show at the helm, Walley-Beckett turned to a world she knew. She trained as a dancer, but she’s also used to taking the everyday — say, a father and chemistry teacher — and finding the horror in it. Joining Walley-Beckett for the first episode is director David Michôd, the Australian writer-director behind crime drama Animal Kingdom and the post-apocalyptic The Rover. He cloaks the pilot in blue tones that makes it feels cold to its core.
Part of the reason why Flesh And Bones pilot is so compelling is that there’s a soapiness inherent to it, especially with its sexually-tinged mystery and warring women. Anytime a line like “Anyone with enough dough to sit on the board spend more doing blow off a hooker’s tit on a Saturday night” is going to have its fair share of soap. There is something cliche in cloaking and ballet company in suds, complete with stock characters such as the potentially-conniving roommate, the leering Lothario, and the sultry friend who helps sexually awaken the main character. The plot itself even has a seen-it-all-before structure. Claire (Sarah Hay who, like the rest of her castmates in the American Ballet Company, was a professional dancer before turning to Flesh And Bone), the fresh-faced rookie, comes the big city and has the inner talent to make it as a star, despite the backbiting she’s sure to encounter.
But those elements are counterbalanced with these elements of horror. Claire is being hunted, not just by her brother, but by Paul (Ben Daniels), who carries himself like a dancer but has a vicious streak in him that could be set off by the mere mention of Prosecco. Daniels, an esteemed British actor who was thrown under the bus by Robin Wright in House Of Cards, is a particular delight, the kind of sneering villain who feels more at home in a show that’s a might trashier than Flesh And Bone, but he’s still so inherently watchable. The scene where he has to fuck a rentboy in order to build the momentum necessary to call the president of the board is a particularly delicious trash. He is undeniable, after all.
By using dance as the structure to tell her story, Walley-Beckett and Michôd have another tool in their toolbox at her disposal: the body. It is the artistic instrument of dance, but it also announces each character when the pilot only has an hour of ground to cover. Claire’s roommate Mia (Emily Tyra) is introduced through her naked body as she vigorously has sex. Rich girl Daphne (Raychel Diane Weiner) is given depth when her secret outlet — stripping at a high end club with mob ties — is revealed. She, like Claire eventually adapts, walks with great power. Kiira (Irina Dvorovenko), the prima ballerina with a coke problem, displays her power through her ribs as she stretches at the barre in front of Claire. This is my territory, bitch, each popped-out rib seems to say to Claire. The nameless company member is viewed as a woman to be pitied because she gets her period, a natural function of the body deemed unnatural. Paul uses Claire’s body — including the girls — to get the ballet he wants out of his new benefactor.
But Flesh And Bone is also what the body and the movement of the body can elicit. Take how Paul reacts to Claire’s initial audition. The cynic in me might say that the focus on Paul’s face is more about concealing a potential deficit of talent on Hay’s part (I’m no dance expert so this is pure speculation), but creating a plot around a charismatic wunderkind who seems to come out of nowhere tends to fall apart when the actor playing said wunderkind is not as fabulous as everyone around her says she is (see: Smash). But, importantly, even if it is a quick Band Aid, it works out beautifully as Daniels’ face subtly changes from boredom to amazement. The same could be said for Claire when she watches Daphne dance at the club. Watching Daphne’s body move gives Claire a sense of pleasure that is not that different from the one that voyeuristic men in suits experienced.
Flesh And Bone, like any show with an element of soap, has the potential to fall apart eventually, but let’s stick together for these eight episodes and see where Walley-Beckett can take us, shall we?